In Search of Mary

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In Search of Mary Shelley

The poet Fiona Sampson, author of this extremely readable biography, considers that Mary Shelley has been eclipsed of late, but it might be argued that the fascination with the young woman who created her durable monster and creator at a famous Italian literary gathering with Shelley, Lord Byron and others has more of a comprehensive hold on the popular imagination than others in her circle of family and friends.

Not least for the fact that this quiet, well-educated English girl counter-intuitively forged a gruesome horror myth that continues to inspire imitations to this day.

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Sampson, however, clearly thinks that more attention should be paid to her heroine, and attacks her proselytising task in the bicentennial of the publication of Frankenstein with some panache. As the daughter of a high-achieving mother one of the founders of feminism and a father famous for his shocking rejection of orthodox religion — and an equally unconventional espousal of free love — Mary had an iconoclastic upbringing and possessed the credentials necessary for success in the literary field.

But Sampson points out that we know less about her life after eloping with the poet Shelley because of the loss of her journals. Mary--relic of the religious past or beacon of the future? Mary is more alive today than she was in the early Christian church, surfacing in art and worship in almost every culture on earth.

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Her appeal bridges the gap between the devotional and the secular, the uneducated and the sophisticated. But who is Mary and what exactly does she symbolize?

How did a humble Jewish girl become the most honored woman in human history? Why is there so little about Mary in the Bible and so much about her in the art and history of Christianity, East and West? And why, in an age dominated by science and technology, does devotion to Mary persist?

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In Search of Mary is Sally Cunneen's provocative response to these questions.

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